All posts by Anne Marie Bonner

Philly education reinvigorates baby boomers and seniors

April 1, 2016
Erin E. Arvedlund, Staff Writer

Edmund Pribitkin, a surgeon and professor at Thomas Jefferson, is an MBA candidate at Wharton.

Edmund Pribitkin, a surgeon and professor at Thomas Jefferson, is an MBA candidate at Wharton.

Older individuals are reinventing themselves by going back to the classroom.

And in college-rich Philadelphia, they and their tuition dollars are welcome on campus.

Some are like Howard Magen, a retired CPA who audits classes he loved during his original college days.

Others are baby boomers facing retirement who want that longed-for degree before they run out of time, or to stay competitive in the workplace. Take Wanda Amaro, a human-resources executive who is earning her bachelor’s degree at age 53.

Many colleges offer low-fee or even free classes for seniors.

Magen, 84, started taking courses at the University of Pennsylvania just months after he retired in 2002 from a decades-long accounting career.

“I’m not pursuing a degree,” he says, “but I like being around young people and sharing what I know or lived through.”

Magen graduated from Penn’s Wharton School in the undergraduate class of 1953, then entered military service before becoming an accountant.

Today, the pressure is off.

“I audit classes. I don’t have to write the papers, and I don’t take the exams,” he says.

Magen’s first class after retirement was modern European history, and he has taken at least one Penn class per semester for the last 14 years. This spring semester, he’s studying the history of opera.

Penn encourages older learners, and charges $500 per course per semester through its Senior Auditing Program. Those age 65 and older audit undergraduate lecture classes in the university’s School of Arts and Sciences. Once registered, you also get a free email account with Penn. To sign up, visit

Some boomers are putting off retirement; many still have bills to pay (mortgages or their kids’ college tuition). An educational leg up can’t hurt.

At 55, surgeon Edmund Pribitkin is the oldest student currently enrolled in Wharton’s MBA for Executives program. He works as a professor and is academic vice chairman of Thomas Jefferson University’s Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.

“Compared to my classmates, I’m a little on the older side,” Pribitkin acknowledges. “But there were two reasons to go back to school.

“I run the residency program to teach residents in head and neck surgery. I’ve been an academic surgeon for my entire career. When I got back as a student, now I’m the person who doesn’t have the knowledge, and deal with people who are professors, the brightest in their field. That’s a wonderful experience,” he says.

Also, he says, an MBA will help bring innovation to medicine: “Learning the language of business brings up arguments to help think in new ways.”

His latest class project was a “ZipItYourself” tool to help a single person zip up a dress.

“I pitched in front of the class, and halfway through I disrobed and had a dress on underneath,” Pribitkin says. “You can’t really do that as a university professor, but you can do it as a student.”

Baby-boom demographics definitely play a role in the return to school.

“With the pace of life, and the pace of technology, we need to reinvent ourselves. The only way innovation increases productivity is if we reinvent ourselves,” Pribitkin says.

Amaro is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human-resource management at Peirce College, and plans to graduate in June.

“My mom always called me her backward girl. I did everything backward!” she recalls with a laugh.

Amaro, who works as an HR administrator at Aria Health, lives in Cheltenham with her husband and has two grown sons and two grandchildren.

A late-stage boomer, Amaro became a wife and mother at 19. She moved up the ranks in human resources at a few different hospitals, and has made it her career for 28 years.

“Being a single parent, my mom could only afford to send my sister to Chestnut Hill College to become a nurse. Financially, only one of us could attend,” Amaro says.

Today, she oversees HR for Aria Health’s system of hospitals, with about 4,000 employees.

“By 2012, I had achieved so much professionally, but I was missing something,” she says. “It’s been my dream to get my degree, and my mother’s dream for both her girls to get their degrees.”

An older student base is the norm at Peirce. For the academic year 2014–2015, roughly 15 percent of Peirce students were over 50, and 45 percent were over 40.

Don’t forget state schools, which also have programs for older students.

Penn State’s Go-60 program, through Penn State Continuing Education at University Park, offers tuition and fee-free courses to those who meet eligibility requirements.

To participate in Go-60, you must be at least 60 years of age, retired or employed less than half-time (20 hours or less a week), and a Pennsylvania resident.

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At one N.J. college, online courses expand

March 28, 2016
Jonathan Lai, Staff Writer

Caylor-Ann Rose-Green has taken 11 online courses as she nears graduation. "It allows me to be a better student because I'm able to give it the attention that it deserves." (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)

Caylor-Ann Rose-Green has taken 11 online courses as she nears graduation. “It allows me to be a better student because I’m able to give it the attention that it deserves.” (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)

For the business student from Germany, taking a biology class online meant being able to focus on the material, not on trying to understand and pronounce new words.

For the student government president juggling work, campus, and family commitments, taking an art class online meant getting to explore the topic at the most convenient times, giving it her full attention and energy.

For the school, Rowan College at Burlington County, online courses are one way to offer more courses, in more formats, to students who may be unable to take a specific class on campus.

“We find that academically, it’s very similar” to in-person courses, said David Spang, the college’s provost and senior vice president. “The same outcomes are met, and our students are enriched by taking the online courses and gaining the benefits, then, of the flexibility.”

Any given semester, about one-third of the community college’s students are taking an online course; in last year’s graduating class, three out of four students had taken at least one class online. The school, formerly Burlington County College, is now seeking to expand its online program even further.

College accessibility and affordability are central themes in the five-year strategic plan that the school adopted this month, and online programs play a key role. The plan includes providing more faculty training for online courses, adding a new online degree or certificate program every two years, growing the transfer agreements for online degrees, and cutting online tuition for out-of-county residents to match what county residents pay.

“We’ve tried to provide the maximum possible opportunities and flexibility for our students,” said Martin Hoffman, who heads the college’s online programs and library system.

Students who have taken classes online said they are similar to on-campus ones in intensity of work and amount of time required to take them. The difference: That time is scheduled by the student, at the student’s convenience.

“It is very much like being in your regular 2-to-4 class; it’s just that you have more flexibility throughout the week to get it done,” said Caylor-Ann Rose-Green, 19, who is graduating in May with her degree in biological sciences.

Rose-Green has taken 11 online courses. The option of taking online courses helped Rose-Green balance work, her role as student government president, and family commitments, she said.

The flexibility also meant that she could properly devote her attention to the courses, rather than be physically present and mentally distracted.

“I can afford to have more creativity, and more of a free range to be able to do my work and not be rushing to do it,” Rose-Green said. “It allows me to be a better student because I’m able to give it the attention that it deserves.”

That freedom also appealed to Marie Totzke, 23, an international student from Germany who is studying business administration and accounting. In some cases, the courses are simply more convenient, such as when Totzke took three online courses while home in Germany for the summer.

Other times, the online course is better for learning, she said. Such as the biology course she took online, which was better than an in-person class “because English is not my native language . . . so I’m not having to go to class and deal with not understanding words.”

“If I’m in class and I can’t pronounce the word, it’s me stressing about not pronouncing the words and not focusing on the material,” Totzke said. “If I’m at home, I can have the material in front of me.”

Of course, the flexibility of online courses also requires discipline. The classes usually include assignments that take place throughout the semester, so professors can track students’ progress.

“For the first time in my life, I have been using an agenda,” Rose-Green said, and white boards throughout her house – the back of her bathroom door, the kitchen, the living room – help her stay on top of assignments.

Totzke said she tries to do some of her readings each night, taking notes, and then spends a day finalizing assignments on the weekends.

Nonacademic skills such as time management and organization become even more important with online courses, said Melinda Karp, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“There are a number of things involved in success,” Karp said. “All of those things tend to get magnified in the online learning.”

For colleges, these issues can be addressed by building support systems – academic advising, tutoring – that are designed to meet the needs of online courses. Professors may need to watch for different signs of trouble, Karp said, and make sure students are engaged and not isolated.

Engagement was something Tiffany Ruocco was focused on when she created an online course on the history of graphic design.

“There has to be enough interaction with the students that they feel that they’re not missing anything,” said Ruocco, who teaches graphic design and digital media at the college.

One upside of the online discussion, Ruocco found, was that she also was not constrained by time and could introduce topics without worrying about derailing her plans.

Another instructor, Erica Osmond, has also found that the online courses can sometimes foster more thoughtful discussion than when students are put on the spot.

“People have additional time to think: the reading, the questions, the discussion posts, they’re processing that,” said Osmond, who created an online public speaking course. “They can go and do some research behind it.”

The online courses have gotten better as technology has improved, Osmond said; the rise of smartphones has made it easy for students to film themselves.

Students then upload the footage, and the course management software gives Osmond the ability to comment in text overlays over the video itself.

“It’s the same content, delivered in a digital way,” she said.

Public speaking isn’t an obvious choice for an online course; neither is a graphic design course. Spang, the school’s provost, said he’s being creative in figuring out what other types of courses might be adaptable to online teaching.

Still, online courses won’t ever fully replace face-to-face interaction. Hoffman, the college’s head of online programming, noted that some courses will always require a physical component.

“Would you really want a nurse working on you who’s never worked on a live patient?” he asked. “I watch the Food Network a lot, but that doesn’t make me a Cordon Bleu chef.”

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AmeriHealth Caritas, District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, Rowan University, and Summer Search Philadelphia Honored by Talent Greater Philly

March 22, 2016

Four awardees recognized for their work in helping employees and residents earn a college degree

PHILADELPHIA, PA:  Talent Greater Philly today announced the honorees of its Regional Challenge, a competition designed to recognize local companies, colleges, and nonprofits for their commitment to helping regional residents earn a college degree. AmeriHealth Caritas, District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund, Rowan University, and Summer Search Philadelphia were honored for their outstanding efforts in support of educational advancement at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Growth Matters event Tuesday at WHYY.

National and regional data underscore the high and growing premium placed on college degrees by employers. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, two thirds of all jobs will require a postsecondary credential by 2020. In Greater Philadelphia, only 40.6 percent of residents over the age of 25 currently have an associate’s degree or higher. The issue is a critical one for regional economic growth as well as individual prosperity. A worker with a bachelor’s degree earns an estimated 84 percent more than a worker without one – an average value of $2.8 million over the course of a lifetime.

Following a rigorous evaluation process, Talent Greater Philly selected the following Regional Challenge honorees for their dedication and innovative approaches to improving educational outcomes in the region:

Employer Honor: AmeriHealth Caritas

AmeriHealth Caritas

AmeriHealth Caritas developed its Education Assistance and Tuition Reimbursement Program to reduce the financial, scheduling, and geographic constraints that working adults frequently face when pursuing a college degree. The company’s tuition reimbursement program offers $3,500 annually to qualifying, full-time associates and $1,750 to part-time associates toward the cost of tuition for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Partnerships with Drexel University, Peirce College, and College for America at Southern New Hampshire University have amplified and extended the company’s educational benefits.  Through a collaboration with Drexel University, for example, AmeriHealth Caritas employees can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree at a 10-40 percent discount off of the regular tuition rate throughout their course of study. Immediate family members are eligible for the same savings. At Peirce College, AmeriHealth Caritas associates have access to a choice of on-campus, on-site, or online classes as well as learning sessions and academic advising specifically tailored to the needs of non-traditional students.

“Like access to health care, we believe access to higher education makes our nation stronger,” said Paul A. Tufano, Chairman and CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas. “Our associates are doing perhaps the most decent, noble and important work we can do for our fellow Americans, removing barriers to quality health care for the poor and chronically ill. Working with our higher education partners, we help remove barriers that may stand in our associates’ way of pursuing higher education. Through our educational assistance and tuition reimbursement program, we invest in our associates’ hopes and dreams of earning a college degree, and create an even stronger AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies.”  

Employer Collaboration: District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund

1199C Training & Upgrading

In 2004, District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund and Philadelphia University began a partnership to help entry-level workers earn stackable credentials in the behavioral healthcare field. The program’s design supports student retention and helps incumbent workers advance along the college-to-career pipeline in an accelerated timeframe. District 1199C offers union members upfront tuition assistance of up to $5,000 annually, and students receive counseling and coaching services throughout the duration of their studies.

Students entering the program begin with a behavioral health technician training course operated by District 1199C and then progress to Philadelphia University where they can earn a certificate in behavioral health, an associate’s degree in health and human services, a bachelor’s degree in behavioral health, and a master’s degree in trauma counseling. Since the program’s inception in 2004, Philadelphia University has awarded seventy-seven associate’s degrees, seventeen bachelor’s degrees, and one master’s degree to participating students.

“The 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund is extremely proud of the behavioral health degree pipeline that we have implemented for over ten years in partnership with Philadelphia University, graduating 77 frontline behavioral health workers with Associate Degrees, 17 with Bachelor Degrees, and one Master’s Degree; and, currently supporting 32 additional workers in the degree pipeline. We are thankful to our fifty plus contributing employer partners who create advancement opportunities for their employees, and to the District 1199C members and community residents who engage in our educational programs with the goal of advancing their careers. Congratulations to Stephen Ridley, Manager of the Fund’s Collegiate and Behavioral Health Programs, who expertly and compassionately guides our students to success.”

Higher Education Honor: Rowan University

Rowan University

In 2011, Rowan University created the “Completion Toolbox,” a bevy of programs and policies designed to help students in the later stages of their degree programs to persist in and complete their postsecondary education. Rowan designed the toolbox to ameliorate two dubious distinctions: (1) New Jersey exports more college students than any other state, and (2) bachelor’s degree rates in southern New Jersey are one-third lower than in the rest of the state.

Through reenrollment reforms, transfer credit policies, flexible scheduling, prior learning assessments, and degree audits – among many other initiatives – the university has improved retention, reduced stop-outs, and shortened graduation timelines, particularly among its Pell-eligible, first-generation, and minority students. One policy, for example, has streamlined the reenrollment process for students with gaps in matriculation, moving the function from the Admissions Office to the Retention Office and yielding a 57 percent increase in the number of students seeking to reenroll.

“There are dozens of colleges and universities in the Greater Philadelphia region, altogether educating hundreds of thousands of students. Unfortunately, national averages [indicate] that less than 35 percent will graduate in four years and less than 60 percent will graduate in six years,” said Dr. Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan University. “At Rowan, we are very proud of the programs and processes we have recently implemented and the impact they are having on the number of students graduating, and on time—well above national averages. Our success means more successful students and alumni, and a better prepared and larger educated workforce for our region.”

Higher Education Collaboration: Summer Search Philadelphia

Summer Search Philadelphia

In operation in the city since 2006, Summer Search Philadelphia equips low-income, first-generation college students with the life skills, experiences, and supports needed to access college and complete a degree. Summer Search’s long-term investment in students begins during the sophomore year of high school, when teachers and guidance counselors from five Philadelphia public and charter high schools can recommend students for the program.

The five-part Summer Search model provides students with (1) year-round, one-to-one mentoring during high school; (2) full scholarships to participate in two summer enrichment experiences; (3) individualized college access services; (4) college and career mentoring up to six years after high school graduation; and (5) access to a strong alumni network. Summer Search Philadelphia now serves 200 area students, and 71% of the program’s high school graduates have earned a four-year degree or are on track to do so.

“At Summer Search, we are dedicated to transforming what Philadelphia students from low-income communities believe is possible for themselves, as they work to become college-educated, socially-responsible leaders,” said Amanda Jefferson, Executive Director of Summer Search Philadelphia. “Summer Searchers, many of whom are first-generation college students, are receiving degrees at rates of nearly double their peers. Collaboration is core to our organizational philosophy and so we share this award with our excellent referral partners at local high schools who are pushing hard for our students every day, as well as the postsecondary and employer relationships that provide key opportunities for our students.”

Talent Greater Philly was formed in 2010 to amplify the efforts of the region’s employers, institutions of higher education, and nonprofits engaged in programs and practices to increase college completion in Greater Philadelphia.

Talent Greater Philly is led by a Steering Committee of four organizations: Campus Philly, CEO Council for Growth, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, and Graduate! Network. Other participating organizations include:

City of Philadelphia, Mayor’s Office of Education
Council for Adult and Experiential Learning
Community College of Philadelphia
Deloitte, LLP
District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund
Equal Measure
Graduate! Philadelphia
Job Opportunity Investment Network
Knight Foundation
LaSalle University
Moore College of Art & Design
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
Philadelphia Academies, Inc.
Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable
Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success
Philadelphia Education Fund
Philadelphia Foundation
Philadelphia Youth Network
Philadelphia Works, Inc.
Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia
University of Delaware
University of Pennsylvania
University of the Sciences
United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey
Rowan University

For more information, please visit or contact [email protected].

Starting from Scratch: A New Federal and State Partnership in Higher Education

February 18, 2016

Today, New America’s Higher Education Policy Program released “Starting from Scratch: A New Federal and State Partnership in Higher Education.” In this paper the program shares its vision for redesigning the federal and state financing of higher education.

Imagine students attending colleges and universities around the country having their financial needs met without the use of federal loans, Pell Grants, and higher education tax credits.

For too many families, paying for college has become an obstacle to financial stability, rather than the pathway to opportunity. Presidential platforms promise free or debt-free college, but these plans are built atop the existing, broken system of financing higher education.

The Higher Education Policy Program’s plan would scrap this foundation, and create a new federal and state partnership that would produce more affordable, socioeconomically diverse college campuses — rewarding schools that keep tuition affordable for low-income students with more funding, not less.

“We can’t solve the nation’s student loan crisis by tinkering around the edges. The only way to halt the explosion of borrowing is to stop lending so much money, by replacing debt with a federal-state financial partnership that actually works. State governments have been getting a free ride for decades, with students and families bearing the consequences. Any plan that sustains the current system is a plan for financial misery that students don’t deserve,” said Kevin Carey, Education Policy Program Director and one of the report’s authors.

The proposal would achieve this by:

  • Changing the allocation of federal higher education funding from a voucher program to a formula-funded grant program, eliminating federal loans, Pell Grants, and tuition tax credits altogether;
  • Lowering the overall costs for students to eliminate unmet need for living expenses such as room and board, transportation, and child care costs as well as tuition;
  • Holding colleges accountable for student outcomes; and
  • Halting state disinvestment by encouraging states to invest in both public and private higher education.

The Higher Education Policy Program’s plan also includes a set of outcomes-based accountability metrics designed to ensure that public dollars are well targeted and meet the needs of students for a high-quality, affordable education that leads to success after college.

Read more about this proposal in their paper.

Mapping Student Debt

Mapping Student Debt

More than 42 million Americans owe a total of $1.1 trillion in student debt, making it the second-largest liability on the national balance sheet. A generation ago, student debt was a relative rarity, but for today’s students and recent graduates, it’s a central fact of economic life that we don’t know much about. Check out this map to learn how borrowing for college affects the nation, our city, and our neighborhoods and to better understand how student debt relates to economic inequality.

Mapping Student Debt >>

Mapping Student Debt